Saturday, February 27, 2010

Brain Candy

As expected, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Kinky Friedman's, 'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out. I finished it about 48 hours after bringing it home from the Library, but I have not had time to blog since then. So I'm already half way through the book that took it's place in the downstairs reading room, The Time Masters by Wilson Tucker. But more on that later.

Since I already returned 'Scuse Me to the library I can't quote from it, but I can give you a clear and vivid picture of just how good it is. It's so good; I actually enjoyed the (many) parts of it that talked about country music. Kinky is probably the only author in the world who could get me to read about country music. And like it. (Kind of like Bill Simmons my favorite sports writer at He's so entertaining I'll even read his columns about basketball.)

I went to a Kinky Friedman book signing in Atlanta once. I had a plan. When it was my turn, I would ask him if he read any science fiction. If he said yes, I would ask him if he read Philip José Farmer. If he said yes again, I would give him a couple of copies of Farmerphile and ask if he'd write an article for the magazine. It would be great, a real coup to get someone so far outside of scifi, and I knew it would be great, a really funny article.

When I finally got to the head of the line I asked him the first question, he replied, "Nah, I don't read that stuff."

Oh well, proof that he isn't perfect anyway.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Unchained and Unhinged

Joe R. Lansdale is an author I admire greatly. I just wish he wasn't a horror writer!

He claims he doesn't really write horror very much, but most of his work is darker than I normally like to read. I liked the first two Hap & Leonard novels, I really liked Bubba Ho Tep and I loved Zeppelins West, but the collections Best Sellers Guaranteed and Unchained and Unhinged, were hit or miss for me. I either love the story, or it's horror.

So, perhaps I need to just stick with the novels and not the short story collections?

The first section of Unchained and Unhinged was my favorite part as it contains five essays about writing. For some reason I love reading about writing and about writers. I've said here before that often my favorite part of anthologies are the short introductions giving you the background of the stories, instead of the stories themselves. I liked reading these stories, except when they got too gruesome. The funny thing is I especially liked the short-shorts, which have to be very clever very quickly, even though they were mostly horror.

So now I can't decide which of Joe's books I want to get next, The King and Other Stories, which is full of short-shorts, or Flaming London, the sequel to Zeppelins West. Maybe I'm coming around to Joe's way of thinking; some of these stories may be a little gruesome, but their not really horror stories.

I started two new books this weekend, Journeys Beyond Advice by Rhys Hughes, which so far is nothing like any of this other books. So he continues to surprise me. And 'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out, by Kinky Friedman, because sometimes I just need some brain candy. Kinky is always an easy flowing laugh out loud funny read. And he makes it look so easy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mike is thinking about publishing

The one—and only—bad thing about publishing Farmerphile: the Magazine of Philip José Farmer is how much it cut into my reading time. I announced the rebirth of Farmerphile as an Annual anthology a little over a week ago and it's already having a similar affect. Of course with the first issue being due out in June, just four short months away, it's almost as if we're back to doing a quarterly magazine.

I also started my attempt at relearning computer programing in earnest this week. So far this is going well, it but it is a another time eater. Which is why I was up until 2:00am last night finishing Tales of the Shadowmen 6. Ok, I would have been to sleep by 1:00 if I hadn't found Pearl Jam's performance on Austin City Limits online here. I had to watch that last night. Since then I've listened to it twice while doing other things; in fact I'm listening to it right now.

As I said in a previous post, Black Coat Press' Tales of the Shadowmen series somehow gets better with each book. Even though this volume has this awesomely creepy cover and the theme Grand Guignol, "is dedicated to simpler horrors and theatrical villainy," the book contains little "horror." I won't describe all the stories in this excellent collection, but here are some of the high points.

It starts with Christopher Paul Carey's first solo effort in a Shadowmen collection, "Caesar's Children," which at it's core is an astoundingly original idea. You know all those Utopian novels written by Thomas More, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edward Bellamy, Ignatius Donnelly, Jack London, etc.? What if they all came to fruition, at the same time, spread out in separate city-states all over the world? My utopian society is better than your utopian society, that's better than my religion is better than your religion.

Win Scott Eckert's story "Is He in Hell?" is the first in a series of stories filling in the "numerous gaps in the secret history of Wold Newton..." and features The Scarlet Pimpernel! If that doesn't pique your interest, you can turn in your WNMS badge at the door.

Matthew Baugh & Micah Harris teamed up for the wildly entertaining story "The Scorpion and the Fox." This story tells of the same shared adventure from two very different points of view, those of Rakhmetov and Becky Sharp. Ms. Sharp was the more interesting character, so much so I'd like to read more of her.

"The Treasure of Ubasti" by Travis Hiltz was my favorite cross-over story, with Mowgli meeting the unadventurous Dr. Henry Jones.

John Peel's "The Biggest Guns" would have been my favorite story in this collection. It is also a story, I think it is safe to say, Philip José Farmer would have gotten a kick out of. But, there are major continuity issues with the story, especially the ending. The ending is so wrong based on previous published accounts, that this story loses all it's credibility. A shame really.

Dennis E. Power's "No Good Deed..." is another favorite in this volume. As is often the case, I'm not familiar enough with most of these French characters, so I don't get much of the deeper significance of what is going on during the story. But the "reveal" at the end of this one was the biggest surprise in the book. It certainly put the biggest smile on my face.

David L. Vineyard's "The Children's Crusade" is a fun story for those of us who enjoy tales of espionage, scams, stings, and other trickery. I could see the twist at the end coming, but not all of it.

Really there is too much to talk about in this book with nearly every story being well worth reading. The volume is closed out with the fifth installment in Brian Stableford's alternate history tale where the dead can come back to life. But not really in a scary way.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The God Engines

John Scalzi is on a serious role. Everything he touches (writes) lately, turns to gold (great reviews, strong sales, award nominations...). His latest novella, and first foray into fantasy, The God Engines, is no exception.

This book arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, and it was so hard to not read it right then and there. But, I was already in the middle of two books that I wanted to finish first and for once I showed some self-restraint. As it turned out, the book is an absolute page turner and is nearly impossible to not read in one sitting.

Thanks to John, you can read the first chapter online at his website. Without giving any spoilers it's hard to discuss this short book in any detail. It is a very dark and bleak take on religion with a few gruesome scenes and a couple of surprises towards the end. Definitely not a book for the kids, or if you insist on happy endings.

Here's hoping Subterranean Press and John Scalzi team up in 2010 as they did in 2009 with a couple of short projects like this one and Judge Sn Goes Golfing.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Stories from a Lost Anthology

When I first started reading Philip José Farmer, in high school and college, a lot of it went over my head. For example I'd never heard of Doc Savage before I read A Feast Unknown and it's simultaneous sequels, Lord of the Trees and The Mad Goblin. Often I knew I was missing references, but, as I learned in subsequent readings years later, some things were so far over my head I didn't even know they were there.

I sometimes get the feeling the same thing is happening when I read Rhys Hughes. Either he's riffing on people I've never heard of, let alone read, or he's just that original.

There are a small handful of authors that, to me anyway, are on different plane than 99% of the writers in the world. These wordsmiths can simply do things with the English language that go beyond telling a story: Mark Twain, P.G. Wodehouse, Vladimir Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut and (believe it or not) Kinky Friedman, all have a certain artistry to their work. These are all writers who've made me think, excitedly, "I didn't know you could do anything like that," and at the same time, sadly, "just one more example of why I'll never be a writer."

While in my estimation Rhys Hughes has not yet reached those lofty heights, his writing does have a similar effect on me. He constantly amazes me.

Now that I've gotten all that out, as for actually writing a review of his collection, Stories from a Lost Anthology, I think I'll direct you to this excellent review by William P Simmons instead.

Next up on my reading list, The God Engines, by John Scalzi.